Michigan football returns to action at the Big House on Saturday with a visit from No. 14 Iowa, a program that has had their number in recent years. The Wolverines need another victory to keep their conference title hopes alive and work to get on a roll after their early season struggles, but a handful of key plot threads will determine where this contest will be decided on Saturday.
Here are the top ones to watch.
This game features a pair of signal-callers in Michigan’s Shea Patterson and Iowa’s Nate Stanley that have struggled in big-game atmospheres. Wolverine fans are well-versed in some of Patterson’s flaws, but may not realize that Stanley is 0-4 in his career with a 45 percent completion percentage on the road against ranked teams. Something will have to give and it goes without saying that the quarterback that plays a cleaner game probably has a much better shot of walking out of Ann Arbor with a victory.
Time of possession battle
Iowa runs the ball for well over 200 yards per game and possesses it for 36 minutes per game so far. They like to play a physical, ball control style of offense, much like the Wisconsin Badgers do. Michigan is going to have to go on some sustained drives of their own and finish off drives with seven points as opposed to three. Again, this probably feels like a cliched storyline, but the top two entries in this edition really do feel like the game may boil down to each.
Through four football games, lack of execution at all times or not, this offense pretty clearly feels like an attack that will go as far as its passing game takes them, so it will be interesting to see how things develop coming off of the blowout of Rutgers. This offense needs to run through Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black and Ronnie Bell and if that means having them on the field at the same time, so be it. Right now, they lack the ability to make big splash plays in the run game (the offensive line is a huge part of this), but might be able to offset that schematically with some short passes and plays designed to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers. The offensive gameplans and playcalling against the two best teams they have played so far in Army and Wisconsin were atrocious and this Iowa team is right up there with both. We’re going to find out just how much Gattis has learned on the job in the last few weeks.
Michigan has not been impressive on the offensive and defensive lines consistently all season long and both units will be tested in different ways in Saturday’s game. The Iowa offensive line features two high NFL Draft prospects in Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs and the defensive line has perhaps the best prospect of the three in defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa. A big part of slowing down the Iowa rushing attack will be determined by Michigan’s interior of their defensive line. Right now, it is hard to say whether or not the Wolverines have enough of a punch to pack on either side of the ball here, but Saturday will be a tremendous test of that.
Kicking rotation continues
Michigan will continue to rotate Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin at kicker, which is sort of a scary prospect heading into a game that feels like it will be close and come down to kicks. Do not be surprised at all if a field goal needs to decide the game late and what will be interesting to watch is who winds up kicking it and what happens should that person miss. Special teams have been terrific all season long, so we will have to see what happens.
What are you looking for in Saturday’s game? Sound off below!